Today, an ex-employee walked through my door. Let’s call him John. He didn’t come to ask for a job or to pick a fight. Instead, he came to say thank you.

John never understood why we let him go, and after we did, he was forced to pick himself up and go out and fight for the things he believed in. Now he is no longer angry — he is happy that his life is once again on the right track.

After we talked for several minutes, he asked me why he was let go, explaining that it has bothered him for years. I felt it was finally time to explain why, and the reasons why might be something that you are facing or will be facing in the future.

John joined our company as an HVAC mechanic’s helper and had several things going for him. He cleaned the job site well, had a great attitude, and was always punctual. His uniform was impeccably clean, and so was his truck. But John was not mechanically inclined at all.

A lot of you right now are thinking, “Hey! Wait a minute! Anyone can be taught to use a wrench.”

There were other things going on in the company — things that were not his fault. I had failed everyone: my family, my coworkers, and my entire team. I had allowed apathy and laziness to creep into how I was doing business. I had run up debt somewhere in the area of $250,000. I had to cut payroll, and that meant I had to let people go. So even thought he was a great guy, I let John go. Over the next few weeks, I had to let several other people go, and then I had to cut my own paycheck for several months, which strained my relationship with my wife.

This is a cautionary tale. I could have avoided this by remaining vigilant and constantly checking and managing the numbers. This is why you, as a company owner, have to take making money seriously.

So I told John the truth. I had failed him, and at the time, I wasn’t man enough to admit it. I admit it now, and although it is not always the easiest thing to point out your own faults, I laid it all out to him. I admitted to him the guilt and shame that I felt for failing. I think at some point, we have all felt that before. He could see the emotion in my eyes, and he hugged me.

Yeah, I said it: The guy I fired hugged me and said “Rob, don’t worry, God puts us where we need to be.” I’m not really a religious guy, but I could feel that he had forgiven me. Which is more than I could have asked.

Robert Matheny
Operations manager
Reliability Home Services
Dundalk, Maryland


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